Detroit had its best, its worst and now is enjoying its new best again. Regardless whether you are presenting or just attending TEMSCON, take advantage of the fact that you are in Detroit, to ponder its history and its vision for the future.

On July 18, 2013, the City of Detroit filed bankruptcy protection, became the largest U.S. city that went bankrupt. Once the symbol and pride of American manufacturing, Detroit suffered from high crime, a high unemployment rate, high number of empty buildings and large debt. It was regarded as the most miserable city in the U.S.

Now, less than five years from bankruptcy, Fortune and Forbes have started to call Detroit “The Next Silicon Valley.” What caused such dramatic transformation?

Photo of Detroit Car Assembly Lines, Wikimedia

Let’s take a short history review:


Detroit was formally established in 1815. In the decades after the establishment, the U.S. welcomed the fast development in railroads, ship building and ocean shipping industries.  Due to its location advantage of being near the Great Lakes region, Detroit became the transportation hub for the Northeast.

When Henry Ford rolled out the Model T as the first mass assembled vehicle in 1896, Detroit began its dream of becoming the World Capital of Automobiles. In 1930, Detroit produced 80% and 70% of the U.S. and world’s vehicles, respectively.

In the 1950s, Detroit enjoyed a population of 185,000.  The photo below shows how Detroit pioneered the concept of a Central Business District back in 1942.

Photo of the Woodward Ave. in Detroit 1942, Wikimedia

Entering the 1960s, Detroit experienced a slowdown in the automotive industry, due to many factors including the rise of Japanese auto manufacturers. The oil crisis further pushed consumers to purchase smaller size energy efficient Japanese cars. In late 1970s, Detroit saw its systematic decline in the auto industry. Many factories closed. Its glory days disappeared!

Fast forward into the 21st century, the downsize of the auto industry and the 2008 financial crisis brought further misfortunes. The Big Three laid off almost 140,000 employees. By 2009, the unemployment rate in Detroit reached 20%, which was 12.4% higher than the national average.  With a population of only 71,400 in 2010, Detroit saw a 61.4% decline compared to its population in the 1950s. Detroit filed bankruptcy in 2013, amassing a $7B debt.

Photo on the left is Detroit QLINE (Shutterstock). With more than half of the Detroit population living under poverty, close to 100,000 empty buildings, it was no surprise that Detroit earned its name as the most dangerous city in the U.S..  But hope never gives up!  The state of Michigan has over 37 universities, over 90,000 engineers, 375 research and development centers, 63 of the Top 100 suppliers, and 12 auto manufacturers. Second savior are the brand names originating from Detroit. The Metro Detroit area has 20 Fortune 500 companies, including GM and Ford. With funding received from private and nonprofit sources, Detroit fixed its street lights. With lights on, economic activities continue on well into the night.

Detroit Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit to Canada’s Windsor, Shutterstock

The next major development was the $450M construction of the Little Caesars Arena, and another $200M investment in building apartments, hotels, office buildings, parks and shopping centers in downtown. Then came the QLINE tram connecting downtown to the new center in the north part of Detroit. The QLINE project was initiated by the Ilitch Family and service went live in May 2017.  Wayne State University invested $2M to build a bioresearch center (IBio) in 2015, housing 500 researchers and staff combined.

Photo of Dan Gilbert, Wikipedia

Among all the investments, Dan Gilbert stands as the top individual contributor to Detroit’s resurrection. Born in Detroit, Mr. Gilbert is a majority owner of Cleveland Cavaliers and the founder of Quicken Loans. He moved his company headquarters of Quicken Loans to Detroit. As the largest individual investor of Detroit, he employs 17,000 people and owns over 100 commercial buildings in the region.

Today, Midtown Detroit is home to many arts and cultural centers, in addition to Wayne State University. North of Midtown is New Center, where there has been an expansion of the Henry Ford medical centers and sports arenas as well as trendy office buildings. The historical Cork Town has enjoyed a total makeover!

The unemployment rate declined to 7.2% in 2018, the lowest since its bankruptcy. Although Detroit still has more to do, the next five years provide promise in its next phase of growth.

Photo of Detroit Skyline, Shutterstock

As researchers and engineering managers, you would be pleased to know that Thomas Edison worked at a candy store while he was six years old in Port Huron, which is about an hour north of Detroit. Edison was a great friend of Henry Ford. You will find Ford’s house north of Detroit. If you are able to spare a couple of more days, you should rent a car and drive up to northern Michigan to experience the wonders of a lake cavern (see photo below).

Cavern in northern Michigan, Shutterstock

Mark your calendar to join us at TEMSCON 2020 in Detroit.  Visit our site at https://temscon.org/